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Is it Picky Eating or Something More?

As expecting parents, we often envision family mealtimes as moments of joy, happiness, laughter, and positive interactions over shared food; however for many families, as our children grow, the reality of mealtimes looks very different. For some families, mealtimes can be stressful, filled with a lot of extra work, emotions, and dread. Concerns with feeding can occur early, as an infant learns to eat, or it may occur when transitioning to solid foods, or maybe a child ate well as an infant but struggled with eating in toddlerhood or as a preschooler.

Baby eating fruit

There are many factors that impact a child’s ability to eat and it’s hard for parents and caregivers to discern when their child’s picky eating is a normal part of development or when it is something that is more concerning and could benefit from outside resources to help.

Picky eating is a broad term used by many but according to feeding experts, children who are picky eaters may have food “jags” or “burnouts” where they stop eating a food but will revisit it several weeks later. They can tolerate new foods on their plate and may reluctantly interact with them (touch/smell/taste), Picky eaters will have at least 30 or more foods in their food range and eat at least one food from most or all nutrition or texture groups (e.g. purees, meltable foods, proteins, fruits).

When is picky eating considered something more?

Signs a child eating is beyond picky eating may include the following red flags:

  • Restricted food range of fewer than 20 foods
  • Lose foods and do not regain lost foods after a food “jag” or “burnout” resulting in a decrease number of foods eaten
  • Refuses entire categories of food textures or nutrition groups
  • When new foods are presented, child cries, screams, tantrums or falls apart with complete refusal
  • Almost always eats a different set of food than their family and often eats at a different time or place than family members.

What to do when there are concerns about your child’s eating

Starting with a feeding evaluation by a trained Speech-Language Pathologist who specializes in feeding disorders is the first step. This will include a parent interview, typically a food diary of what your child eats, as well as an observation and evaluation of your child’s oral motor skills, medical history, and feeding skills. A Speech-Language Pathologist will be able to determine if your child struggles with picky eating or if it is something more such as a problem feeding disorder. If your child is in need of feeding therapy services, the Speech-Language Pathologist will be walking alongside your child and family to help improve the mealtimes at home.

If you have any concerns with your child’s eating, please contact us today to set up an evaluation.

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Contact us to start with a free consultation to discuss your child’s needs and schedule an evaluation.